Kid Baltan

Resident archivist Jack Dangers has found the Number One record on his wish list, a seven-inch by Dutch pioneer Kid Baltan, aka Dick Raaijmakers

I’d been looking for the seven-inch single ‘Electronic Music’ by Dick Raaijmakers for over 20 years, and I recently managed to get hold of two copies in the space of a month. One of them is the very first pressing from 1957. It was never for sale in the shops. It was pressed up by Philips and given away at a trade conference in Denmark. It has, “With compliments of Philips Electron Tube Division” printed on the cover, and the B-side is a narration in Danish. I snagged it for €160. The second copy came from a record shop in Saint Petersburg in Russia, and that was only €35. I got lucky there.

The sleeve notes on the back cover claim that it is “the first record of popular music made by purely electronic means”. Before this, all that was released was musique concrète, whereas on ‘Electronic Music’ “…the tones were obtained from sine wave, square wave, sawtooth, pulse and noice [sic] generator”. So it’s fair to say that it’s the earliest example of popular electronic music.

It was put together using tape loops in a rhythmic way. It has a pleasant tune on top created using an ondes Martenot, an instrument which can sound like a theremin when it’s played. It has a keyboard with a ring attached to a wire underneath and, because you can follow the keyboard, the ondes Martenot is much easier to keep in tune than a theremin, so you can have five of them playing together. If you tried that with theremins, it would be all over the place. It sounds like a bass synth in the low registers, and the basslines on this are really melodic. You could buy various speakers for different effects, but for ‘Electronic Music’ they plugged straight into the desk, so it’s a very clear and pure tone.

Dick Raaijmakers was a pioneer, and the work he did on his own and alongside Tom Dissevelt at the Philips NatLab in Eindhoven (where the name Kid Baltan comes from – Dik and Natlab written backwards) is some of the most important early electronic music.

All of his work is collected on the essential four-CD boxset, ‘Popular Electronics: Early Dutch Electronic Music From Philips Research Laboratories (1956 – 1963)’, and includes work by Tom Dissevelt and Henk Badings.

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